New COVID Strains

As we enter the new year, concerns over COVID-19 multiply as new strains are discovered. In September 2020, a new mutation of the virus was found in Southeastern England and has now spread to other countries such as South Africa. While the variants have so far been contained in other countries, there are worries that it will spread to the U.S, and by extension, Kansas. As the worldwide vaccine rollout begins, optimism is dampened as nations struggle to control possible outbreaks, and there could be worries that the variant will spread to their populations. 

As viruses spread geographically, they typically separate into distinct strains, which form when there is a mutation to the genes of the virus. Mutations affect the virus’ spike proteins, invading the body by attaching to cells. This is evident in the UK strain, as it contains 23 mutations. While there is no proof that the new strain is more contagious, there are surges of cases where the virus is appearing. Because of this, scientists believe there is a possible connection between the variant and higher transmission rates.

These mutations have raised alarm in many as countries begin to vaccinate their populations. However, new strains are to be expected. According to the WHO’s director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “The more the virus spreads, the higher the chance of new changes to the virus.” Health officials are currently working to ensure the effectiveness of the vaccine against new strains.

Although the strains detected in the UK may be more transmissible, there is no evidence that the strains provoke more severe reactions. Robert Bollinger, Professor of Infectious Diseases, believes the new strains do not require any new prevention methods. “There is no demonstration yet that these strains are biologically different in ways that would require any change in current recommendations meant to limit spread of COVID-19,” he said. “Nonetheless, we must continue to be vigilant for such phenomena.”

While the rest of the world has concerns about the variant strains, the Olathe North administration is not worried, as the Johnson County Health Department has provided no information regarding the mutation. Olathe North’s Nurse Myra Craig explains how they have received little information on the district’s approach.

“I don’t think that anything will change with the new strain,” Craig stated. “Viruses tend to be similar even in the same strain and we feel very good that students have not been affected by Covid in general. It has been very low risk for the student population.”

Craig can assume the district will combat the variant similarly to the current strain and other viruses such as the flu. 

“Flu strains are different every year but we still have the same measures to prevent the flu: washing our hands, staying home when we’re coughing, ill, or have a fever,” Craig explained. 

Although it is good to be mindful of the new strains, there still is not enough information to regard them as a threat. As we are faced with uncertainty here at Olathe North and around the world, the only thing we can do is continue taking preventative measures: washing our hands, social distancing, and wearing a mask.